Saturday, April 7, 2012

How We Got to Where We Are Today: Modern Historical Romance Over the Last Several Decades, or A Recommended Reading List for the Uninitiated

Sometimes when I talk to fellow readers of historical romance, or even authors, and I mention a name from the past, an author who helped shape the genre, like Kathleen Woodiwiss or Rosemary Rogers, I get a blank stare in return. It occurred to me that as lovers of a genre it might be helpful to read some of the classics to see where we’ve come from and to enjoy the greats who have contributed so much to the craft.

I’m not going as far back as Ivanhoe, Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre. I’m not even reaching back to the seminal novels of Georgette Heyer in the early 20th century. No, I’m starting in the 1970s when the bedroom door was flung open never to close again. And while I may not have included your favorite author, by reading the romances on this list, you’ll have a good idea of our beginnings and what so many wonderful authors have done for the genre. Think of it as an education in modern historical romance. Where an author has written many novels (some early ones are still writing best sellers today), I tried to use their earliest work that influenced the genre.

So, here's the list of the historical romances I recommend you read. Each has something to show you. Some may require you to shop online for a used book, though many are available as eBooks. I’m not saying they will all be your favorites, or that they are all mine. And I realize some readers will think I left off one I should have included. This is a sampling meant to give you a picture of how the genre has developed over time. Most are novels I’ve rated 5 stars, so I promise you won’t be bored.

Included because of its significance…

• Bond of Blood by Roberta Gellis (1965)

The 1970s: The Pioneering Years

• The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss (1972)
• Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers (1974)
• Devil's Desire by Laurie McBain (1975)
• Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde (aka Tom Huff) (1976)
• Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey (1977)
• Caroline by Cynthia Wright (1977)
• Love’s Wild Desire by Jennifer Blake (1977)
• This Loving Torment by Valerie Sherwood (1977)
• The Rainbow Season by Lisa Gregory (1979)

The 1980s: The Explosive Years

• Lady Vixen by Shirlee Busbee (1980)
• Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (1981)
• Devil’s Embrace by Catherine Coulter (1982)
• Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewyne (1984)
• Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught (1985)
• The Wind and the Sea by Marsha Canham (1986)
• The Hawk and the Dove by Virginia Henley (1988)
• Capture the Sun by Shirl Henke (1988)
• Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw (1989)
• Sweet Savage Eden by Heather Graham (1989)
• Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart (1989)

The 1990s: The Developing Years

• Dark Fires by Brenda Joyce (1991)
• Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale (1992)
• Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1992)
• Enchanted by Elizabeth Lowell (1994)
• The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson (1997)
• Night in Eden by Candice Proctor (1997)
• Kilgannon by Kathleen Givens (1999)

The 2000s: The “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” Years

• By Possession by Madeline Hunter (2000)
• Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry by Amanda Hughes (2002)
• The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole (2003)
• Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn (2007)
• Broken Wing by Judith James (2008)
• My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (2008)
• The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran (2008)
• Raeliksen by Renee Vincent (2008)
• Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell (2010)
• Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner (2011)


  1. Regan:
    I am highly honored to be listed with my book THE HAWK AND THE DOVE. That book won a "Most Sensual" award from Romantic Times.

  2. As well it should, Virginia. I loved that book! Next month you'll be on my Best Scottish/Highlander Historicals list, too!

  3. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have made your list. I am definitely in great company and am flattered beyond words. Thank you Regan for this immense honor.

  4. I call them as I see 'em, Renee. Yours is not only a great novel...a wonderful Viking story set in Ireland...but in my opinion, it moves forward the world of historical romance as, I believe, the others do in the category of the 2000's. Congratulations on a wonderful trilogy!

  5. Hi Regan, I'm honored to be in such great company! Thank you. I wish you and each of my peers listed all the best in the future!

    1. I loved LAIRD OF THE MIST and your wonderful Scottish historicals that followed it. It will be fun to have you on the blog in May!

  6. Does it reveal my age if I say I've read almost every one of these, and loved them? I couldn't begin to choose a favorite. It's sad that so many from the 70s are now decried for being politically incorrect, when at the time, they were so utterly groundbreaking. I loved them. Still do.

    1. Kat: I feel the same way! And while doing research for this list reading the older ones made me realize that they are as good or better than others out today. I have no problem setting my 21st century sensibilities aside to love them. DEVIL'S EMBRACE by Catherine Coulter kept me up ALL NIGHT reading! And I still love pirates, Vikings and all those Scottish alpha males.

  7. I will be pillaging this list like a victorious Viking warrior clad only in a kilt and a cravat! Thank you!

    1. Margaret: you made me laugh. Yes you did. Well, pillage on. I did it for readers and writers who love historical romance, or want to!

    2. Love it, Margaret! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Great List Regan!!! Lots of great books to check out...

    Lisa :)

  9. I don't read many historical romances, but when I do, I usually enjoy them. Your list has made me want to read more of this subgenre!


    1. Tell me what you like, Adele, and I can recommend some good ones!

  10. I'm going to age myself sooooo much here, but the first 'historical' romances I read was by Barbara Cartland. Oh so tame by today's standards, but I loved the requisite Rake and trembling virgin (usually the vicars daughter). It set the stage for my love of novels in a historical setting.
    Congrats to all the ladies, past and present, who made your list.

    Go Renee :)

    1. I know the name, Madison, and looking her up I am astounded at how prolific she was, beginning in the 1920s! If you have one to recommend that has "the requisite Rake and trembling virgin" I'd love to have it.

    2. Thanks Madison! You are a doll for visiting me!

  11. First, Regan, I am honored to be included on your list for CAROLINE. It's unreal to be there with so many fantastic authors and books that I have loved and treasured myself. One of the reasons I decided to get my backlist titles back out there as ebooks was the number of people who continued to tell me, 35 years later, that they still had their first copy of CAROLINE.

    I smiled when I read Kat's comment about those 70's novels being "decried as politically incorrect." (As you know, I've had my share of new reviews for CAROLINE that can't get past that.) You are so right - those older historicals should be enjoyed in the context of when they were written.

    By the way, I have to tell you that I think you may have read a later edition of SKYE O'MALLEY, dated 1990. I think Skye was first published in 1981 (possibly even sooner). That book has been reprinted so many times, it has to be hard to track down the original pub date - but I remember where I lived when I read it.

    Finally, I got a kick out of Madison's mention of Barbara Cartland. I too read her books back in the early 70's - and met her at two Romantic Times Conventions in the early 1980's. What a character! Regan, if you're looking for a title, the one I've never forgotten is THE WICKED MARQUIS...

    Thanks for your wonderful list and all you are doing to promote the best of historical romance!

    1. Cindy,
      You are right!! So, I've moved SKYE O'MALLEY up on the list to 1981. Thanks for catching that! And I'll get Cartland's THE WICKED MARQUIS. It was published in 1973 (though her earliet romances were much earlier). Still, it would definitely fit on the list.

    2. Part of what I love is that title. It would be a huge seller today! I just looked at it on Amazon and it has that same cover mine did. There was a big flurry of Cartland books around the same time as THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, and they all had the same cover artist, who was great!

  12. Cindy,
    Funny you should remark about the old covers. I like them. I know sex sells and the publishers, trying to take advantage of that, seem to want to spread it on the covers. And, may I add, they all look alike to me. For me it's the back of the book blurbs that sell me on a story. I'll take almost any cover, though I really do like the ones you, Marsha Canham, Shirl Henke and Shirlee Busbee are using for your new eBooks.

  13. I've read at least one author from every decade you mentioned including the Raeliksen series by Renee Vincent. I read all of Kathleen Woodiwiss's novels and Judith McNaught as well as the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Great list of books from the ages.

    1. Sarah...good for you! I do hope you'll read more. All those on my "2000's" section are marvelous new authors. If you like RAELIKSEN, I think you'd really like BEYOND THE CLIFFS OF KERRY.

    2. Thank you Sarah for your compliment and for visiting Regan's blog!

  14. Regan,

    Thank you so much for including me in this very wonderful list! Such august company to be in--I'm thrilled. CAPTURE THE SUN did break ground in the Indian romance subgenre. Hawk was my first educated half-caste and I liked him so much I went on to write ten more such tortured heroes. The gorgeous cover art was done by Max Ginsburg, supurb artist and good friend. I liked the painting so much I bought it and he graciously let me use the artwork on my ebook cover, too.

  15. Shirl, you know by my review (posted on my blog a week or so ago) that I loved this book. And, you are right, it did influence the development of the genre. Thanks for all you do to write those amazing Western historical romances! I'm looking forward to having you on the blog. I'm thinking June just might be Western romance month!

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  17. You have just chronicled my reading life. Damn, I'm old. And I'm also honored to be included among such extraordinary authors. I've read almost every one of them, and still love them all. Thank you for taking the time and effort to compile this list. I'll be looking forward to seeing who you add next year.